The Philadelphia Orchestra concluded its 2018-19 season with three special live performances of Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide” at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia from June 20-22.
In celebration of Bernstein’s 100th year, rather than just playing the music from “Candide,” the orchestra played to an adapted version of the classic, which was turned into a two-act comedic opera by playwright Lonny Price.
Narrated by Academy Award nominees Carey Mulligan and Philadelphia native Bradley Cooper, the two sat at a double-sided podium where they told the tale of Candide, a senior in the Class of ’92 at West Phalia High School.
Obviously not the original play that was based off Voltaire’s book from 1759, the production was absolutely crazed. Not making any sense as a story, the play kept killing off characters and bringing them back to life. Yes, it was humorous and light, but to stretch it out in the way it was done, it became boring.
But, the finale of the season was not for audience members to view a play with absolutely no semblance to the actual “Candide,” it was for patrons to hear Bernstein’s Tony-nominated music.
The orchestra was absolutely magnificent. Conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, who wore a West Phalia High School Music Club polo, he served as the maestro as well as a background character to the production.
Not being the first time Nézet-Séguin has explored the works of Bernstein, he felt that this production went deeper into portraying the messages Bernstein rendered in his music.
“’Mass’ had to do with spirituality. ‘West Side Story’ had a different kind of take on society. ‘Candide’ has the appearance of something lighter and funnier. Nonetheless, it’s as powerful and meaningful in its message to our society today,” Nézet-Séguin said in the orchestra’s Beyond the Baton interview. “Every Bernstein work is extremely relevant not only to his own time but also to our time.”
Nézet-Séguin helped adapt the production with Stage Director Kevin Newbury. The two, who both grew up in the late 1980s, felt that they should set the production around the same time and be a coming of age story.
“Something that resembles ‘The Breakfast Club’ or ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ movies that were really cult films in our youth, which will help get the message across that this is a time when we are at our most true to our beliefs and when we see the world in a very immediate way,” Nézet-Séguin said. “This is was also how Bernstein was able to get back in that youthful mind while writing ‘Candide.’”
Not working at all, the two were saved by the voices who filled the four-tiered Verizon Hall of the Kimmel Center.
Tenor Alek Shrader, who portrayed the title character of Candide, gave a delightful performance. But it was Soprano Erin Morley, who starred opposite Shrader as Cunegonde, who completely stole the show. A voice that matched her looks, Morley was absolutely breathtaking. She received a standing ovation from the audience and multiples bouts of applause throughout the production.
Other than the botched story that was presented, every other aspect of the production was well received. The music was beautiful, the singing was phenomenal, and all of the actors were fun to watch in each of their respected roles.
Cooper and Mulligan were both well spoken, but other than the fact of driving people in the doors, the two were not needed whatsoever. More often than not, the two actors sat watching the production while drinking bottles of water. Their presence was pointless, but still entertaining to see in person, nonetheless.
The Philadelphia Orchestra will begin its 2019-20 and 120th season on Wednesday, September 18 at 7 p.m. in Verizon Hall at The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia. For more information regarding tickets and performances, visit www.philorch.org.